Don't change a winning team was the philosophy of Anadolu Efes Istanbul this off-season as the Turkish side re-signed Rodrigue Beaubois, Bryant Dunston, Krunoslav Simon, Tibor Pleiss, Chris Singleton, Sertac Sanli and Bugrahan Tuncer. The only new addition to the roster was Erten Gazi, who will be making his professional basketball debut this season.
It’s hard to find a better backcourt in the entire EuroLeague than the dynamic duo of Shane Larkin and Vasilije Micic. They helped Efes reach the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Championship Game in 2019 and lead the 2019-20 standings when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the season. Larkin led the league in scoring and was looking like the presumptive favorite to win the MVP award. Micic is his perfect match as a combo-guard who can create, shoot and penetrate. Beaubois is another dangerous scorer off the bench, while Dogus Balbay provides game-changing defensive intensity. After spending five years playing college basketball, Gazi will try to acclimate himself to the highest European level quickly.
The frontcourt is also strong, led by Simon, Singleton, Dunston, Pleiss and Adrien Moerman. Added to that group are James Anderson and Tolga Gegim at the small forward spots behind Simon as well as Sanli, who seven times scored in double figures off the bench. Moerman missed half of last season due to injuries and should be back to his big role from two years ago. Dunston, a two-time EuroLeague Best Defender, anchors the defense. The taller Pleiss is also an intimidating factor in the paint, while the versatile Singleton complements all the other big men.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Shane Larkin has proven to be must-watch TV since joining Efes in 2018. The 27-year-old led the EuroLeague in scoring (22.2 ppg) and performance index rating (25.8 PIR) last season while ranking seventh in steals (1.3 spg), dishing out 4.1 assists and hitting 50.9% on threes and 90.3% on free throws last season before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the season. He shattered the single-game scoring record with 49 points against FC Bayern Munich and also torched Olympiacos Piraeus with 40 points - both times evening the mark for the most three-pointers made in a game with 10 threes. Larkin also had a game last season with 8 assists and 0 turnovers and twice made double-digit free throws without a single miss. EuroLeague defenses have not figured out how to stop Larkin and knowing his teammates so well will make things only that much more difficult this season.
Everything is there for Larkin and co. to be back in the hunt for the much-sought-after title. Larkin and Micic will be as motivated as ever after registering the best record in the league last season following a runner-up finish in 2019. Efes did not make any major changes - losing only Alec Peters from last year’s team - so Ataman will not need to incorporate many new faces and can build on the last two seasons of continuity. Efes's dynamic backcourt and strong frontcourt will have the club in the mix and it enters the season as one of the title favorites.